J. B. Hewitt, Chesterfield
Amos belonged to Tekoa, a small town about six miles south of Bethlehem and about twelve miles south-east of Jerusalem. Very few particulars are given about him and these are all found in his book. He did not belong to the Northern Kingdom, but to Judah. He is a singular figure among the O.T. prophets. His name means bearer or burden and in his call he became a “bearer” of the Word of God which was in reality a “burden”. We should not find service for God a burden yet we should be burdened in service.
From one of the bleakest districts in Palestine and in obedience to Jehovah’s command Amos appeared in Bethel to discharge his prophetic mission and deliver the message of Jehovah to the people, 7. 13-14. The fact that he belonged to Judah and yet prophesied in Israel made his ministry and message all the more disturbing. Never previously had a prophet of Judah prophesied in and against Israel. He was not a courtier like Isaiah, nor a priest like Jeremiah, but an ordinary working man, 7. 14-15.
Date. Amos prophesied nearly two hundred years after the death of Solomon and about one hundred years after Elijah. The period is fixed by the opening verse; see 2 Kings 14. 23. He ministered during the time of Uzziah and in the second half of the reign of Jereboam II. He appeared (B.C. 809-784) rebuking the sins of the monarch, princes, priests and people. He was contemporary with Hosea and Jonah. He was familiar with the prophecy of Joel, so that Joel must have preceded Amos by some years and his ministry is somewhat earlier than that of Hosea.
Setting. This is similar to that of the early part of Hosea’s ministry. Jereboam II raised Israel to the zenith of its power and splendour and his reign was one of great prosperity But the prophet was not deceived by the outward prosperity and tranquility of the land. He was like Elijah in that he stood alone and spake with equal vehemence on the subject of Israel’s sin. His ministry compassed primarily Israel, but then widened and embraced Judah, and then widened still more, and included the Gentiles, chs. 1-2.
Style. His style is homely, full of energy, elegance and simplicity. He makes use of imagery to enforce his message and does so in prose rather than in poetry. “No other prophet furnishes us with these metaphors from the scenes of nature in such fresh, vivid, and rich variety. In him we read of the iron sledges of the thresher, 1. 3, of stormy hurricanes, 1. 4, of the cedars and oaks with their deep roots, 2. 9, of the hungry lion roaring in the forest, 3. 4, of the snared bird, 3. 5, of the shepherd tearing out of the mouth of the lion two legs and the piece of an ear, 3.12, and many others worth tracing”. His vocabulary, his figures of speech, his illustrations are all reminders of the country life from which he came.
His Courage. Although a native of Judah, Amos went to Bethel in Israel in order to utter his prophecies, Bethel being the centre of Israel’s idolatry, 1 Kings 12. 28-29. Amaziah the priest of the golden calf, endeavoured to drive the prophet back to Judah, but even to Amaziah’s face this courageous servant of Jehovah announced the fate of the priest and his family with no uncertain words, 7.14-17. Humanly speaking he was alone, but like Elijah, John Baptist, Luther and John Knox he would certainly have declared that it is better to be alone with God. That faith inspired him with a courage that no opposition could shake and that no danger could daunt. He discerned that it was a time of outward prosperity and inward decay, a time of religious formality and nauseating hypocrisy. Like Martin Luther, long after, Amos might have declared, “Here I take my stand; I can do no other, so help me God”, cf. Eph. 6. 13-14; 2 Tim. 4. 16-17.
Lessons for Today
- God, who is God of all the earth, has no favourites and His judgment applies to all nations, and if to nations, likewise to individuals, ch. 1-2; 1 Pet. 4. 17-18.
- Special privileges bring special accountability, 3. 1, 2, 8.
- Outward religious form and ritual is no criterion of a right state of heart before God, or a correct knowledge of God, 5. 16-27.
- By repentance and obedience to the voice of God, judgment may be averted: “Seek the Lord”, 5. 1-14.
- Failure to obey the righteous will of God inevitably leads to disaster. All need to repent of sins and turn to God. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.” The writing is on the wall of civilisation, the hand moves on relentlessly, and judgment is written in letters of flame. Judgment will fall as surely as autumn follows summer.
- Sobs of declamation, chs. 1-2. The nations.
- Introduction, 1. 1.
- Denunciation against the nations, 1. 2-2. 16. Predictions: Damascus for cruelty, 1. 3-5; Gaza for treachery, 1.6-8; Tyre for complacency, 1.9-10; Edom for enmity, 1. 11-12; Ammon for tyranny, 1.13-15; Moab for inhumanity, 2. 1-3; Judah for infidelity, 2. 4-5; Israel for profanity, 2. 6-16.
- Note the formula “For three transgressions . . . and for four”.
- Keynote. The sovereignty of God over all nations; all are responsible for their wrongdoing.
- Israels present guilt, ch. 3. Privileges enjoyed, 1-3; Punishment announced, 4-15; its certainty, 4-9; necessity, 10-13; severity, 14-15.
- Israels past sin, ch. 4. Divine condemnation, 1-5; wicked women, 1-3; worthless sacrifices, 4-5. Divine chastening, 6-13. Note “yet have ye not returned unto me”, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11; also the pronoun “I”.
- Israels future judgment, 5.1 to 6.14. Judgment deserved, 5. 1-15; Judgment decreed, 5. 16 to 6. 14. Note the lamentation, 5. 1-2; the exhortation, 5. 4-15; the devastation, 5. 16-27; the condemnation, 6. 1-11; and the retribution, 6. 12-14.
- First Vision, 7. 1-3. The scourging locusts, i-2a; The pleading servant, 2b~3.
- Second Vision, 7. 4-6. The contending fire, 4; The concerned servant, 5-6.
- Third Vision, J. 7-9. The measuring plumbline and the coming judgment. Historical interlude, 7. 10-17. A political priest and a true priest.
- Fourth Vision, ch. 8. The basket of summer fruit. The coming destruction, 1-3; The curse of covetousness, 4- 8. The coming judgment, 9-14.
- Fifth Vision, 9. 1-10. Jehovah standing by the altar. The severe punishment, 1-4; The sovereign’s power, 5- 7; The sifting process, 8-10. Judgment executed to the full.
- Restoration of the nation, 11-13. Sanctuary restored, 11a; Breaches repaired, 11b; Edom repossessed, 12; Produce revived, 13.
- Rule of Messiah, 11-13. Note, I will “raise up”, “close up”, “build”.
- Restored to the land, 13-15. Joy restored, 13; Freedom reclaimed, 14; Security enjoyed, prosperity assured, 15. The word of Jehovah cannot fail.
Suggestions for Study
1. Collect a list of sins in this book; this is most revealing and humbling.
2. Trace the cause, course and calamity of divine judgment.
3. Note recurring phrases, e.g.: “Thus saith the Lord”; “Hear the word”, 22 times; “for three transgressions . . . and for four”, “seek the Lord”. Collect the questions in the book and their answers. Consider the “I will’s” of Jehovah -there are over 40 references.
4. Study Amos’s life as a preacher, e.g., his call, his country, courage, concern for the people, his condemnation of national sins, confidence in God and communication of truth.
5. Consider the quotation of 9. 11 by James in Acts 15. 14-18. (i) The visitation of the Gentiles began after Israel had rejected the second offer of mercy. Now,, this people taken out is called of God by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel and constitute the Church, designated as the Body of Christ, 1 Cor. 12. 12, 13; Eph. 1. 22, 23, a called-out assembly, (ii) James declares that this outgathering of the Gentiles is in harmony with what the prophets taught, (iii) The dynasty and kingdom of David would be restored and set up; 2 Sam. 7. 4-17; Isa. 2. 1-5; 9. 6-7; 11. 1-9; Zech. 14 with Matt. 24. 29-31; Rom. 11. 26, 27. (iv) This will mean a world-wide Gentile conversion, Acts 15. 17. They will be brought into blessing, Isa. 11. 10; 60. 5; 66. 23.